The hallmark of the human race is our ability to relate to one another. Scientific studies show that healthy relationships — familial, romantic, social, and professional — are an essential facet of overall happiness, well being, and even longevity. In other words, people who have strong connections live longer lives and are healthier and happier during those lives. As we look ahead to another new year, it is important that we examine and recalibrate our relationships —for the sake of the relationship as well as for our own well being! Relationship resolutions, so to speak, can help set the tone for small acts of mindfulness that will create deeper connections in your relationships.
Resolution # 1: For every relationship, we have a “tape” in our head that shapes how we view the other person and ultimately dictates how we interact with them. The most important step you can take in cultivating healthy relationships is to change the tape in your head. Before you can alter your interactions with others, you must examine the thoughts you tend to have about them. When you have a negative narrative around someone (“she is nosy and gossipy”), you are likely to find evidence of that narrative in their behavior. You have primed yourself to spot that story. On the other hand, if you are able to catch the judgmental thoughts that reinforce the negative narrative, you can stop that tape and replace it with a more kind and compassionate one (“she is interested and curious”).
I often tell clients that I can describe my own partner to them for five minutes, absolutely truthfully, and leave them convinced that he is so awful I should leave him. But I can also truthfully fill five minutes and convince them I have somehow found the pinnacle of perfection in my partner. Both sets of statements would be equally true. But my interactions with my partner vary greatly depending on which tape happens to be playing in my head. The same is true in relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers.
Resolution # 2: Creating small moments of positive connection each day will help improve your sense of satisfaction with your relationships. Take the time to chat with the clerk at the grocery store, grab an extra cup of coffee for a coworker in the morning, help someone carry something up the stairs, or simply smile at people as you walk by. One of my favorite ways to improve my own day is to wave and play a game of peek a boo from afar with young children when I am out and about. Their awed delight at a moment of playfulness in the midst of standing in line or walking down the store aisle never fails to make me smile. The cascade of positive reactions created by these micro-connection moments is powerful for all involved: everyone leaves feeling a little more tethered to the world around them.
Resolution # 3: During the inevitable moments of conflict with loved ones, find ways to remind yourselves of your existing bond. Even in the midst of an argument, you can reach out and rub your partner’s back or hold their hand. Agreeing to pause an argument to eat or simply take a walk can help to prevent emotional flooding. Many people experience personal conflict as abandonment. Maintaining awareness of your love during times of conflict, through verbal reminders (“I am angry and hurt right now, but I love you”), through touch, or humor can help decrease feelings of abandonment and lingering bitterness.
Resolution # 4: One of the best tools of effective communication is the open-ended question. Resolving to listen more, speak less, and ask open-ended questions is one of the best ways to deepen your relationships. Inviting someone to speak freely at length makes them feel valued; it is an immense gift to them and also builds equity in your relationship. Think of it as a way to enhance your love maps, building your intimate knowledge about the other person.
Resolution # 5: Perhaps the most important relationship resolution you can make for the new year is to prioritize time with your friends. Friendship requires ongoing maintenance. It has been shown to be extremely valuable in ensuring our well being, especially as we age. However, friendships that are not nurtured will atrophy. We have busy lives and often relegate social interactions to the periphery of our routines. Make a point of treating time with loved ones as sacred, and prioritize it ahead of other commitments. The flip side of this is that it is important to protect yourself from relationships that drain you. Learn to say “no” to interactions that will deplete you so that you have the emotional resources to tend the relationships that matter.
Resolution # 6: The last relationship resolution for the new year is to apologize well. Think about any relationships that may have ended awkwardly or people you may have hurt. Spend the next year paying close attention to any unintentional harm you might cause someone, and be quick to make amends. Keep your apologies short, take responsibility and embrace humility. Be sure to manage your expectations about getting a response. Your apology is one half of an interaction, you can only hold yourself accountable for your end. The response on the other side is neither yours to shape, nor yours to hold.
In summary, start the new year with these resolutions so that you can grow and deepen your relationships further in the coming year. Make it a daily habit to tend to your personal relationships in a way that not only maintains, but also nurtures them. Your physical and mental health will benefit exponentially.